Thursday, June 09, 2005


I’m a union member. It’s the first union job I’ve had, and while it’s not without faults, I believe it’s a better experience than it would be without the union. I know it’s fashionable to bash them as bad for America, bad for business, and even bad for workers, but consider this: My contract has a clause that requires the company to furnish sanitary drinking water, clean toilets, and adequate lighting and heating. This may seem quaint or silly, but those items are there because they had to be negotiated at one time. We’ve come a long way since then, but absent a union, the company would have no obligation to do any of these things.

I’ve facetiously suggested that all the local bike shop mechanics should form a union. Tom (the owner of Tom’s Bicycles) isn’t especially keen on the idea, as you might imagine. But he’s suggested that it would benefit all the shops and all the local cyclists if the mechanics had to meet a minimum qualification standard in order to do their job. As it stands now, anyone can be a bicycle mechanic. That means some spotty teenager can assemble and repair bicycles at the local big box store with little regard to seeing that they operate properly.

Most of us have horror stories about poorly assembled bicycles with their forks or front brakes installed backwards. Fortunately, some of the big box stores have recognized the folly of using a stock clerk to assemble bicycles. They bring in a specialist to do this. Our local W**Marts, for instance, have a guy who travels from store to store assembling bikes. A unionized mechanic would be more expensive, so don’t expect Wally World to be supportive of this idea, either.

I once worked briefly for a ski shop. I was slated to attend a ski binding school in order to learn how to mount bindings properly, but a dock strike led to my first ever layoff. The idea behind the school was to see that all ski technicians knew how to do the job right, limiting liability for both shops and manufacturers. You’d think that in our increasingly litigious society, this would be a requirement for bicycle shops too. Would a car or motorcycle dealer hire someone with no experience to work on his products? Of course not!

My friend Sandra attended the introductory course at the Barnett Bicycle Institute. By doing so, she learned in a week what took me a couple of years by trial and error. I read a couple of books that helped, ‘”Richard’s Bicycle Book”, and Sloane’s “Complete Book of Bicycling”. I still have that copy of Sloane’s and it’s hopelessly dated now. But if Sandra could learn this material so quickly, anyone with an interest in the subject should be capable of learning enough to be a competent mechanic.

It would be wonderful to offer some sort of certification course to local cyclists and mechanics. Maybe not as elaborate as the BBI, but enough to cover the basics.


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